הָיָ֣ה ׀ עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם
וְשָׁמַר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ לְךָ֗ אֶֽת־הַבְּרִית֙ וְאֶת־הַחֶ֔סֶד אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע
לַאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃ (דברים ז:יב)
“And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, Adonai your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that God made on oath with your forefathers:” (Deuteronomy 7:12)
It’s really very simple. We have a deal. We will be loyal, faithful, and obedient, and God will take care of us. We just follow the rules, keep them and do as we’re told, and we will live the good life. Everything in life will be taken care of. The issue of our wombs will be blessed, as will our produce and our flocks. We will be immune to sickness and not to worry, all of our enemies will receive a similar fate as did the Egyptians. Yes, it does seem daunting to face an enemy greater than ourselves, but it’s not a problem. Just as God liberated us from the house of bondage, so too will be done with all other peoples. It’s cool, no worries.
Oh, and if we do have hardships, just remember anything and everything is a test of our loyalty, of our obedience and faith. When we were hungry in the desert who brought us manna? “The clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these forty years.” (Deut 8:4) “Bear in mind that Adonai your God disciplines you just as a parent disciplines a child.” (8:5)
It makes perfect sense. I don’t care what the other children at school are doing, you’re my child and you obey my rules. I can fully acknowledge the existence of other parents, but they do not feed and clothe you. They do not take care of you or provide for you. They will not rescue you in time of need or teach you how to live a good and decent life.
For some it is all about loyalty then, and still today. The point is clear. י-ה-ו-ה is our ruler and if we stray one iota we will pay the price. God reminds us as to how good the Land is. How plentiful our bounty is and also that once we are satisfied and have eaten our fill it’s so easy to forget who gave us all of these riches and wealth. Who filled our stomachs and put our troubles at ease.
But, we religious liberals rejected this a long time ago. While we love a good covenant this reward- and-punishment based deal was just not gonna fly in the modern world, yet for many, it sits at the heart of the Jewish divide. It is at the crux of the universalist-particularist split and plays itself out even today.
As journalist Anshel Pfeffer wrote in Haaretz this week:
“An open ideological conflict is tearing the Jewish world in two. Most nationalist and religious Jews see their Jewish identity and values in a very different light than most progressive Jews. Naturally, the majority of one camp live in Israel while the members of the other tend to be American. In a sense, it’s not a new divide but an evolution of the twin divides that opened up nearly a century and a half ago over whether enlightenment and liberalism would guarantee the Jewish future or nationalism and religious orthodoxy. It’s a valid debate that we need to continue conducting without insisting that either side has a monopoly on Judaism. But the debate is becoming increasingly contaminated.”
In today’s world, we reject with all of our might and all of our souls an insecure, narcissistic, and delusional leader who takes a page out of the playbook of the Deuteronomic deity waxing and waning over some false sense of loyalty and obedience. And we stand up to such leader saying that there is no God but God and we only listen to ours. Anyone who impersonates the God of our ancestors will pay for it.
To be clear, we Reformers canceled our subscription to this flavor of theology a long time ago, emphasizing that our God is a universal God for us and all of humanity. We Zionists rejected this theology as we clung to the [Good] Land and said in our hearts:
“My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” (Deut. 8:17)
Today it’s actually not only about loyalty. It’s about taking our fate and destiny into our own hands, using our strength, affluence, and intellect to right society’s wrongs and do what we can to make the world a better place. Any individual who bothers us with questions of loyalty to them or a specific party is just a distraction from our mission. Nearly a half-century ago the famed Rav Joseph Soloveitchik summed this up quite succinctly:
“A Jew who participates in the suffering of his nation and its fate, but does not join in its destiny, which is expressed in a life of Torah and mitzvot, destroys the essence of Judaism and injures his own uniqueness. By the same token, a Jew who is observant but does not feel the hurt of the nation, and who attempts to distance himself from Jewish fate, desecrates his Jewishness.”
(Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, based on Rambam’s Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:11)
Loyalty and faithfulness have had their place. We as Jews can and should be proud of who we are, of our tradition and our age-old civilization. But pride does not equal blind faith and loyalty today is earned through ideas and inspiration, not through demands or threats. We’ve had our loyalty to rulers tested time and again from Pharoah to Ahasuerus, to medieval kings and lords, to Napoleon’s Great Sanhedrin, through 1950s McCarthyism. Even Avigdor Lieberman’s failed and racist attempt to have all of Israel’s citizens sign a loyalty declaration was not going to fly. In today’s world, it is about loyalty. Loyalty to one another and to our mission of building the Jewish people and the Jewish State to use our strength and our will to make the world a better place.